Paraprosdokian phrases for life, and retailing today

Nov. 20, 2012 | by Chris Petersen

Perhaps Yogi had it right all along: Nostalgia ain't what it used to be.

On my third 15+ hour flight to Africa this year, I decided that it was time for a different kind of post. I've written about trends in retailing. I have recently reported on retail best practices from around the world. We've covered the essentials of consumer experience and what it takes to be successful in retail. Maybe it's time to boil it all down to some good ole "Paraprosdokian" phrases. What, you say? Ride along and see how Yogi Berra might have actually had some profound insights for life … and retail.

Perhaps it is not too surprising from the spelling to learn that paraprosdokian is derived from Greek words meaning "beyond" and "expectation." A paraprosdokian phrase is a figure of speech or a phrase that starts with something common or accepted, and then goes on to state something surprising or unexpected in the conclusion or next phrase.

A paraprosdokian phrase is a very useful and artful way of capturing the listener's attention. It is written in such a way that the latter part of the phrase is surprising or doesn't quite fit with the first part. The intent and design is to have the listener pay attention and in fact spend some time deciphering the meaning. A paraprosdokian is frequently used for both humorous and dramatic effect. It is a favorite technique of comedians, satirists, and … retail professors.

Yogi Berra … Perhaps the grand master of paraprosdokian phrases!

For those of you who living outside of the US, and for those a bit younger in years, Yogi Berra was a famous baseball player. He played the position of catcher for the New York Yankees, when the Yankees absolutely ruled the game of baseball.

Yogi, now that's a name you don't see any more! Now whether it was his unique name or his low key demeanor, Yogi had a knack for understatement, malapropisms and paraprosdokians. He perfected his slow paced style and parlayed it into some memorable lines that are often quoted today in sports as well as business. "Yogisms", as they have become known, are perfect examples of paraprosdokians. They start with something basic or fundamental, and end with a twist or surprise. Here are a few classics from the unforgettable Yogi:

  • Baseball is ninety percent mental and the other half is physical.
  • It ain't over til it's over.
  • If you arrive at a fork in the road, take it.
  • It's like déjà vu, all over again.
  • If you don't know where you are going, you might wind up someplace else.

Classic paraprosdokians capture lessons worth remembering

Perhaps, paraprosdokian phrases are a lot like finding humor in jokes. Humor lies in the eyes of the beholder. While some might not fully appreciate the irony of Yogi Berra's sayings, there are some classic paraprosdokians that provide insights for both business and life. Here a few classics that give meaning to "priceless":

  • Light travels faster than sound. This is why some people appear bright until you hear them speak.
  • We never really grow up, we only learn how to act in public.
  • The early bird might get the worm, but the second mouse gets the cheese.
  • To steal ideas from one person is plagiarism. To steal from many is research.
  • A bank is a place that will lend you money, if you can prove that you don't need it.
  • I always take life with a grain of salt, plus a slice of lemon, and a shot of tequila.
  • You're never too old to learn something stupid.

As you can quickly see, paraprosdokians are life's paradoxes captured as insights with a grain of salt and truth. Many famous quotes and memorable one liners are in fact paraprosdokians.

Paraprosdokians – a perfect tool for capturing business insights

While most paraprosdokians are offered up as observations on life, there are many which offer insights in to business. It is the short paraphrase and the juxtaposition of ideas that tend to make them both memorable and insightful.

I'm a measurement guy by training. I'm always preaching about the critical importance of defining objectives and metrics that are relevant … upfront! Far too many business initiatives are causes in search of "proof", or someone's pet project in search of measurement that validates their idea. As it turns out, there's a perfect paraprosdokian to describe this phenomenon of fire, ready aim, measure: To be sure of hitting the target, shoot first and call whatever you hit the target.

The business world is full of those that know, or at least talk about all that they think they know. At most meetings I attend, there are no lack of opinions. Most can't wait to jump in with their two cents worth. On these occasions, I'm reminded of a very insightful paraprosdokian given to me by a business associate: Try listening first … it improves your vision.

So what are the paraprosdakians for retail?

In the past twenty five years of teaching Retail University, I never realized that many of the insights we highlight as "sound bites" for retail success are actually paraprosdokians. The interesting thing is that these paradoxical statements tend to "stick". People tend to remember them and the underlying principles of retail … and quote them back to me years later. For those graduates of IMS Retail University, many of our most quoted paraprosdokians should sound familiar and still ring true today:

  • Retail is not rocket science … it's harder!
  • If you are not 120+ days early … you're late.
  • If you don't turn … you burn.
  • If you are not on cycle … you pay at least twice.
  • Everyone likes to give birth [to products] … no one believes their children must die.
  • Results count … everything else is conversation.
  • Differentiate … or Die.

Ok … your turn. What are your favorite paraprosdokians?

We'd love to hear some of your favorites for retail. Actually, we've started collecting a favorites list for both business and life. So, don't be shy … share your favorite paraprosdokian below.

Topics: Customer Experience

Chris Petersen / Chris H. Petersen, PhD, CEO of Integrated Marketing Solutions is a strategic consultant who specializes in retail, leadership, marketing, and measurement. He has built a legacy through working with Fortune 500 companies to achieve measurable results in improving their performance and partnerships. Chris is the founder of IMS Retail University, a series of strategic workshops focusing on the critical elements of competing profitably in the increasingly complex retail marketplace.
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